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What People Love About New Orleans

If you prefer your musical stylings less elemental, a little more elegant, then keep on your Sunday best and book a table at Red Room. That's where the city's earthier version of Nat King Cole performs. Jazz balladeer Jeremy Davenport is, of all things, a trumpet-blowing white boy. He takes the stage here every Friday night, and can also be seen at the newest chic nightspot, Le Chat Noir. Davenport got his start playing with Harry Connick Jr., but missed New Orleans too much to spend months on the road. "When I land at the airport, I can literally smell the dampness and the mildew. Oh, man, anything can take root here," he says between Red Room sets. "I love to get right out in the moisture of this place."

Well, my goodness.

Go on home now. Change out of your moist Sunday best. And head over to the plaza in front of St. Louis Cathedral to listen to clarinetist Doreen Ketchens and her band, the Jackson Square All-Stars. "There are times I throw my head back and close my eyes and I see Louis Armstrong just lookin' at me and smilin'," she says, finding a bit of shade under a palmetto. Ketchens has played at clubs as far away as Portugal and Taiwan, thanks to connected tourists who have caught her act on the streets of the French Quarter. "It's all God's doin', cause I hated jazz," she says, alluding to her early days as a classical musician. "I grew up over in the Treme, where all those jazz bands played—the Dirty Dozen and the Chosen Few," she says. "And here I am now. Here I am."

Someone else here now (and still banging out his tunes) is Fats Domino, who so thrillingly performed the shotgun wedding between gospel and jazz up on Blueberry Hill. The freakishly beautiful progeny of such a union resembles rock and roll, but has rhythm and blues eyes. Though George W. Bush has cited as his favorite group the local Neville Brothers, a more cutting-edge act is singer Ricki Comeaux, a little Cajun gal from up around Lafayette. Her angst anthems have an enticing tinge of zydeco to them. Where does she go after a successful gig?"My friends whisk me off to Loa, the bar at the International House, or, occasionally, Rick's Cabaret, on Bourbon," she says, mentioning the upscale strip joint famous for its table dancing. "I've had several dances performed for me all in one night," she brags.

Jeremy Davenport's hangouts
Where he plays: Red Room (2040 St. Charles; 504/528-9759); Le Chat Noir (715 St. Charles; 504/581-5812); and Le Bon Temps Roulé (4801 Magazine St., 504/897-3448), "a divey uptown bar."

Favorite hotel and hotel bar: International House and its Loa bar (221 Camp St.; 504/553-9550; 800/633-5770; doubles $120-250).

Place to hear a brass band: Donna's (800 N. Rampart St.; 504/596-6914).

Barbershop: Aidan Gill for Men (2026 Magazine St.; 504/587-9090). "You can get a massage there, too."

Breakfast after being out all night: Poppy's Grill (717 St. Peter St.; 504/524-3287).

Doreen Ketchens's hit list
Best gospel music: Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church (2308 S. Liberty St.; 504/895-6800); First Pilgrim's Baptist Church (1325 Gov. Nicholls St.; 504/522-1740); and St. Augustine Catholic Church (1210 Gov. Nicholls St.; 504/525-5934).

Jazz spots: Sweet Lorraine's (1931 St. Claude Ave.; 504/945-9654); Snug Harbor (626 Frenchman St.; 504/949-0308); and Siam Café (435 Esplanade; 504/949-1750).

A great jazz singer: Leah Chase, who performs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Hotel Intercontinental (444 St. Charles Ave.; 504/525-5566).

Where to catch Ricki Comeaux
Mid-City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave.; 504/482-3133).

Howlin' Wolf (828 S. Peters St.; 504/529-2341).

Richard Ford's side of town
Favorite lunch spot: Rita's Olde French Quarter Restaurant (945 Chartres St.; 504/525-7543; lunch for two $20).

Most romantic place for dinner: The garden behind Marisol (437 Esplanade Ave.; 504/943-1912; dinner for two $70).

Favorite New Orleans writers: Walker Percy, Ellen Gilchrist, and James Lee Burke (the Dave Robicheaux novels).

Henri Schindler explains mardi gras
Carnival: Season beginning on Twelfth Night (January 6) and culminating with Mardi Gras, a masquerade bacchanal, always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Krewe: A Carnival organization that typically puts on parades and/or private balls.

Court: A krewe's royal personages, composed of a king, queen, dukes, maids, and pages, who reign at the balls.

Captain: The real power behind each krewe. This is an elected position, and tenures vary. The captain of Proteus, for example, just resigned after almost 25 years.

Parade: The city is filled with processions throughout Carnival. The Krewe d'État, the only satirical parade with its own floats, takes place the Friday before Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Orpheus parades Mardi Gras eve. And Rex, king of the carnival, parades Mardi Gras day. (These are my favorites, but I'm prejudiced—I design the floats for all three.) Napoleon Avenue is great for taking in parades because of the beautiful oaks—it's darker there, so the floats look better.

George Dureau tells it like it is
Best bars: Port of Call (838 Esplanade Ave.; 504/523-0120). "This is my local hangout. They serve a great hamburger." Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon St.; 504/523-0066). "An atmospheric if touristy spot on the quiet end of Bourbon." Galatoire's (209 Bourbon St.; 504/525-2021). "The upstairs has just been redone, and the bar is gorgeous—as fine a bar as you'll find anywhere."

Favorite cemetery: Lafayette No. 1 (Washington Ave., across from Commander's Palace). "But I've told my friends to cremate me and mix my ashes in some paint, then brush me gently into one of my canvases. I think that's a sweet idea. But we've all got sweet ideas down here. We're infested with 'em."

The food ain't all that's rich
"Growing up in New Orleans, you learn to appreciate decaying grandeur," claims Walter Isaacson, the managing editor of Time magazine. Isaacson is the perfect example of the kind of meta-preppie that the city's upper-crust Garden District has produced over the years—smart as a whip, ambitious, taught early on how some day to suck in any sign of one's gut behind a wilting seersucker suit. Other examples: New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly writer Nicholas Lemann, best-selling author Michael Lewis, and most recently, NFL star Peyton Manning, the gentleman athlete who quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts this year into the playoffs. Indeed, on a Sunday morning, when you're standing in line for silver-dollar pancakes at the Bluebird Café on Prytania, and overhear two proud fathers discussing a "well-thrown ball," you can never be certain if they're talking about the football game won by Isidore Newman, the tony prep school where Manning got his start, or a party worthy of one of their debutante daughters.

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